Reflecting on Ten Years of Conferencing
August 1 marks the end of ten years of conferencing. A milestone like this has me in a reflecting mood. Here are a few observations. Thanks for reading.
It really, really, really is possible to double
Doubling a group every two years or less requires 40% growth, or, it means the average group going from 10 to 14 in a year. I have never ever heard a teacher say, "I just don't think that is realistic." I like to ask this question, "If I offered you a million dollars could you get it done?" Of course we could. How long would it take you? About ten minutes for me!
After logging 1.6 million miles on American Airlines alone, I have a report. I have heard hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stories of teachers who said, "I doubled my group." "We grew our group from ten to twenty." I heard two stories this weekend. One guy told me, "We started a group of young couples and the church leadership told us we didn't need a group for young couples but we started one anyway. Next thing you know we had seventy people in the room."
Another man shared about how he grew his church from four hundred to a eleven hundred through doubling groups. I was in New Vision Baptist Church in Murphysboro, TN this weekend where the church has doubled twice in the last five years.
A little past a year ago I started hauling my video camera around with me. I have recorded dozens of stories of teachers who have doubled. You can see them at www.sundayschool.ning.com The site is also set up where you can post your own stories. (Only stories about growing groups and churches, please, but, I'd love for you to add your stories.)
A doubling group really, really, really is amazing
I wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Amazing Power of Doubling Groups. It is really the seminar from a couple of years ago. I change up the talk every so often. A lot of people don't realize if you had me in every couple of years you would get a talk that is about 80% different.
Anyway, it really is amazing what a doubling group can do. In his newest book, Andy Stanley publically stated the goal of having 50,000 in multiplying [multiplying is his word for doubling] groups by the year 2010. The church will be fifteen years old. The next fifteen years ought to be really exciting.
It only takes growing from ten to fourteen in a year to double every two years or less. If you get it done a little more quickly--eighteen months, you can reach a thousand people for God in ten years. Add a zero every five years.
Doesn't sound realistic? It is working at Northpoint!
It really helps if the pastor leads
One of the reasons it is working at Northpoint is that Andy Stanley regularly stands before his people and says, "I am in a group that is doubling; I want you to be in a group that is doubling." At last count, I have four recorded instances where I have caught him saying this--twice on video and twice on audio. Occasionally when I do meetings for pastors I play all four to demonstrate that this is a recurring theme for Andy. It might not be a bad idea for you, too, pastor.
Show me a church where the pastor regularly stands before the people, as Andy does, and says, "I am in a doubling group; I want you to be in a doubling group" and I will show you a church that is growing rapidly.
Why are so many Sunday Schools failing? I read a Barna stat that said the number of pastors who say Sunday School is important has dropped for 23% (which I thought was appalling) to 18%.
Nothing is important till the pastor says it is important. Pastor, we (speaking for small groups, Sunday School, and their leaders), we need you. We need you to affirm us and our work. We need you to cheerlead. We don't need a lot of time; we just need you to tell everyone that what we are trying to do is important.
The problem is not the problem
I made an assumption when I started in this work. I didn't think too much about it, but I had an assumption. I assumed that Sunday Schools were filled with happy, committed Christians eager to grow their groups. They wanted to grow their groups and they were just looking for a method that would help them do that. Once that method was presented, they would jump on it.
Although this is occasionally the case, ten years on the road has taught me it is usually not the case. Many Sunday Schools are populated with happy--but a bit sleepy--Christians who might like to see their group grow if it didn't cost them too much. Even then, if they were perfectly honest, they are not sure. Change is scary for them. They are pretty sure they don't want to be a member of a huge church. That is why they joined this one. It is a safe place to meet each week. (One solution is to grow and divide the church. That is Bob Robert's plan. See his new book on the Multiplying Church: the new math of starting new churches.)
For many people in many churches the idea of doubling a Sunday School is just not that interesting. With all my efforts to show that it is possible, many, I think, see it as impossible. And, if it is possible, they are not at all sure they want to go there. The math of doubling can be summarized this way. If you want to figure out where a group will be in five years if they double every eighteen months, just add a zero. A group of ten will be at a hundred. A group of twenty will be at two hundred. A group of thirty will be at three hundred. I stand before lots of leaders of groups of thirty that don't want to go to three hundred in the next five years. They certainly are not willing to divide their class to do it. And, even if they did want to, their class would squelch this idea in one weekend.
Thus, for many groups, standing before them on one weekend and showing them HOW to double a class every two years or less is not enough to get them actually doing it.
This problem can be seen from several perspectives.
It is a commitment problem. For many, it is an issue of commitment. Jesus talked about laying down our lives. He spoke of surrendering to him as Lord. The Bible is full of words that speak of all-out commitment. I have had many people come up to me over the years and say, "I don't know if we want to double every two years or less; we are happy the way we are." or, "We are comfortable the way we are." They don't speak of whether this is something God would want. It is all about whether they perceive it will make them happy.
They early church turned the world upside down and it cost them. They were clearly very committed. Whatever else is involved in winning our world to God, it involves commitment. We will never turn our world upside down except that we start with a profound conviction that Christ is Lord--He is the boss of me. But, where does commitment come from?
It is a "what is the gospel?" problem. I have written four or five articles on this and I think they are some of the best I have written. They will come out in a few weeks. In summary, the gospel as Jesus and the early church preached it was not a gospel of, "How to go to heaven when you die." Rather, Jesus stood before people and said, "I have come that you might have life!" Paul described that life as a life of love, joy, peace patience, kindness, and so forth. Who doesn't want that life? Who doesn't want a life that is a little more loving, a little more joyful, a little at peace? That was what the early church was selling and that is why people were willing to pay a high price to get it. If you would like more on this, Google John Ortberg and listen to some of his sermons.
It is a discipleship problem. I am rereading Robert Coleman's classic The Master Plan of Evangelism. It is fantastic. I remember reading it in college and thinking, "I need to reread this every few years." It has been too long.
As I read The Master Plan of Evangelism this time, I am thinking about if from the viewpoint of a teacher or small group leader, rather than from the viewpoint of a pastor. It would be a great book for Pastors or Minister of Education to study with their teachers. (If you would like me to write a group study, email me at email@example.com If I get enough interest I will write it and it will be free. Let me hear from you.)
Here are a couple of quotes. One from the beginning; one from the end. These are so great:
It all started with Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God. (page 21)
This is why, we must say with E.M. Bounds that men are God's method. Until we have such people imbued with his Spirit and committed to his plan, none of our methods will work. (page 97)
This is the new evangelism we need. It is not better methods but better men and women who know their redeemer from personal experience--men and women who see his vision and feel his passion for the world--men and women who are willing to be nothing so he might be everything--men and women who want only for Christ to produce his life in and through them according to his good pleasure. This finally is the way the Master planned for his objective to be realized on the earth, and where it is carried through by his strategy, the gates of hell cannot prevail against the evangelization of the world. (page 97)
Forty five years later, it is still the new evangelism we need. As I travel I see a church that is frantically searching for better methods-God is looking for better men.